Disclaimer: No sex. At least, not yet.
Warning: This story is not yet complete. This is part one of a multi-part story.
For A Song
“One more time, please, everyone, and try to hit your marks.” Renard, the director, sounded halfway between disgusted and bored.
Andi sighed and moved back to stage left. Her feet were tired and swollen, and the black character shoes were beginning to pinch. She pasted on a bright stage smile, belied by her tired brown eyes, adjusted her shawl and posed.
The tenor soldiers began, moving stage left and extolling the virtues of cigarette-factory girls, and the short curvy redhead and her fellow altos strolled and flirted among the soldiers and the baritone townsmen. On her cue, she settled on one burly soldier's knee, running her fingers through his hair and smiling at him.
“No, no, no! Cut!” Renard screamed shrilly. “Sopranos, UP right not DOWN right! Tenors, remember you're in the Spanish Army, not the Rainbow Navy. From the top, and get it right this time!”
The tenor, who moments ago had been gazing up at her adoringly, dumped her off his knee and began fixing his hair, smiling brightly as he viciously cursed Renard under his breath. Andi sighed and rolled her eyes, picking herself up and only half listening as the director once again berated the entire cast for some imagined fault.
Such was the life of a grand opera singer.
Two hours later, throbbing feet back in her beloved Keds, Andi slipped out the back door and stood on the loading dock, just breathing for a moment. She sniffed the faint aroma of cigarette smoke and turned instinctively, looking for the source.
A tall, slim figure stood leaning against the wall, all in black, drawing on the forbidden cigarette as though it were attached to a scuba tank. Andi started walking toward her and the dark figure slipped into a shadow.
“It's OK,” Andi called out. “I'm not going to turn you in.”
The figure reappeared, closer now, definitely female. Tall and long and slim all over, from her straight dark hair to her long sexy legs, with green eyes that glittered in the faint streetlight as the cherry of her cigarette glowed.
A husky, sexy voice drawled, “Good, because I'm not putting out another one. Not even for Leontyne Price.”
Andi smiled. “Give me a drag and this never happened.”
The brunette's eyebrow lifted. “I thought you fragile singers all keeled over at the first whiff of smoke?”
Andi grinned. “No rehearsal for the chorus tomorrow. I think I can recover from one drag in a couple of days.”
The brunette extended her hand, transferring the cigarette to Andi. As their fingers brushed, Andi felt a thrill of excitement darting up her arm.
None of that, missy, she reprimanded herself. Just because it's been three years doesn't mean you have to go into overdrive.
She took a deep drag, trying not to think about her lips touching where the brunette's had, and handed the cigarette back. “Oh, wow. Thank you, I needed that.”
“Devon Chandler,” the brunette said, extending her hand. “Want one of your own?”
Andi's mind went in a very naughty direction for a millisecond or two— Do I want a Devon Chandler of my own? God yes, if she looks like you —and recovered just in time to not embarrass herself.
“Andrea Winters, but my friends call me—.”
“Andi. You have a good voice for someone in the chorus,” Devon grinned.
Andi looked up, surprised. “How did you—“
“I've heard you warming up backstage. You're a lot better than that geriatric diva they hired to play Carmen. Why aren't you at least one of the minor leads?”
Andi grimaced. “It's a long story, but it boils down to politics. You're a techie?”
“Close enough,” Devon answered. “My first show with Pacific. I'd love to hear some of the insider perspective on these politics, if you have time?”
“Oh, I'd love to,” Andi sighed, “but not tonight. I have to be to work in—“ she glanced down at her cell phone and groaned “—five hours.”
“Ouch,” Devon said. She busied herself for a moment, field-stripping her cigarette and stashing the butt in one of the dozen pockets of her cargo pants. “Well, maybe another time.”
“Yes. I'd like that. Thanks for the—“ began Andi, but stopped awkwardly as she realized she was alone.
Andi's dreams were restless, dominated by a pair of green eyes. When the alarm went off at four for her morning shift, she woke feeling as though she hadn't slept at all. Quickly pulling back her red curls into a semblance of a ponytail, she threw on black jeans and a polo, stuffed a clean black apron into her backpack and started her ancient Honda on the third try.
Fortunately she could pull shots of espresso in her sleep, and after slamming her first quad she felt marginally human. Still, she was distracted, twice confusing the nonfat and the soy steamer jugs, and to make it worse, she was late for her one o'clock class, slipping red-faced into the lecture hall under the professor's glare. But despite her tiredness—and a research paper with a looming deadline—she somehow kept wishing it were a rehearsal night.
She kept looking for Devon as the week progressed, but although catching the occasional glimpse of a familiar-looking slim figure slipping into the light box or rising up into the catwalks, she never seemed to be able to catch sight of those eyes, or hear that husky voice.
Idiot, she thought to herself. She's probably forgotten all about you. Hell, she's probably straight, and married with six kids. No, no kids, not with that body. That body—
Cut that out. You're acting like a teenager, getting all mushy over someone you've traded ten words with, she reprimanded herself.
Still, she couldn't stop herself from leaving by the loading dock every night that week, hoping to run into Devon again.
Finally on Friday, as she slipped out the back door, she caught a whiff of smoke. Looking over, she saw a pair of green eyes gleaming over a glowing red cherry.
“Want one?” the husky voice purred.
“I'd love one,” Andi managed, her heart practically in her throat, “but we're restaging Act One tomorrow and I need my full range. Mind if I just stand here for a minute and take it in vicariously?”
Devon laughed, and the sound made something warm and tight curl up in Andi's lower abdomen. “Not at all. Unless you want to go somewhere with a little more light and we can have that talk?”
Talk? Oh yes, Andi thought. About the opera company. Not about… anything else.
“Sure,” Andi said. “There's an IHop just down the road.”
“I'll follow you,” Devon said.
I think I'd follow you too, thought Andi. Especially if it meant staring at that ass.
“I don't know why I'm telling you all this,” Andi sighed later, looking down into her murky coffee cup. “Honestly, I barely know you. It's just—well, it's hardly a secret that Pacific's gotten a bad rep over the past few years.”
“Sounds like they've deserved it,” Devon answered.
“Seriously, I think we do. For the last three seasons, it seems like we're just ripping off everything Bay did the season before, only with worse staging and fewer sets and costumes. No one admits it officially, but everyone can tell the audience is dropping off. And the sponsors. I'm not sure how much longer we can keep it up like this.”
“So why don't you go audition for Bay?”
Andi laughed, hollowly. “Because the unwritten rule is, once you've sung for Pacific, you are persona non grata at Bay.”
“Tell me about it. Bad enough no one told me that when I first started auditioning down here, but what makes it worse is that Pacific hires out all its lead roles. So I'm stuck in the chorus forever, unless I somehow transform into a hot gay tenor so I can blow Renard and get a minor lead.”
Devon arched an eyebrow. “So how do the female minor leads get in?”
“God knows,” Andi grimaced. “Maybe Renard has a sister.”
Devon repeated that low, sexy chuckle that did funny things to Andi's stomach. “Well, short of Renard dropping dead, what if anything do you think could save Pacific?”
Andi thought for a moment, sipping on her cooling coffee. “Actually, despite his diva nature, Renard's not a bad person,” she replied thoughtfully. “He's just a bad director—no imagination. He'd do great in promotions or marketing or something, because he has charisma, and he really does love the opera. What we really need… I think what we need, besides decent management and direction, is a new hook. Something that's never been done before, like a world premiere. Shake things up a bit.”
“You mean, move away from traditional opera?”
“Oh no, not entirely—I'm talking about variety. Maybe do a modern opera as the season opener… then a comic operetta, something people really love, like Gilbert and Sullivan. Then do something really obscure, something no one's seen in years—Donizetti or something Russian—and then close the season with one of the standard crowd-pleasers. Mozart or Rossini or something. But not always the same thing Bay did last year.”
“You've thought about this sort of thing before?” Devon asked.
Andi shrugged. “Not really, or at least not consciously. But it gets frustrating—poor direction, cheap sets and costumes, sacrificing quality to save on expenses. Some of my college productions were better than the stuff we've done the last couple of seasons.”
“Wait. I thought you told me you were in school now?” Devon asked.
“I'm going back, to get a degree in business—as in, something I can do for a living. A master's degree in voice is a lovely thing to have, but I don't want to be a barista all my life.”
“You didn't want a doctorate?”
Andi shrugged. “I didn't want to teach, I wanted to sing. I auditioned around a few major companies, and wound up here by accident—Bay auditions in the winter, not the summer, and my advisor told me Pacific was a good company. I guess in her day it was.” Andi sighed. “I keep telling myself I'm going to quit, but… if I leave Pacific, it's community theatre or nothing, unless I move to another state. I can't move till I finish school again, and I guess I'd just rather sing in a mediocre Carmen than in a good Oklahoma ! .”
Devon laughed. “Is there such a thing as a good production of Oklahoma! ?”
The bar across the street switched off its neon lights, and Andi's face paled. “Oh my God. What time is it?”
Devon glanced at her watch. “It's one-thirty, why?”
Andi groaned. “I have to open tomorrow. Today. In three and a half hours. Crap.” She started to reach for her wallet.
“I'll get it. But why didn't you say something? We could have done this another night.”
Andi blushed. “I… I didn't want to be rude. You seemed kind of upset when I said no last time, and I wasn't sure if you'd ask again.”
Devon grinned. “Oh, I would have. But probably not until after the show opened—Hell week starts Sunday, and I think I'll be even busier than you.”
“Don't remind me,” Andi groaned.
“I've got the check,” Devon repeated. “Go home and get some sleep.”
“Thank you,” Andi said. Devon smiled up at her, and her heart skipped a beat. “You have gorgeous eyes, by the way.”
I can't believe I said that. What an asshole. Is she even gay? Andi cursed herself all the way home, and all the next day. Saturday was a rare ‘free' day, with no school and no rehearsal, and after her shift she felt wrung out as a dishrag.
Going to bed and sleeping for 12 hours was tempting, but Andi knew she'd feel worse if she didn't get some exercise. The park nearby had a quarter-mile track, and after twelve laps she felt tired but energized. She microwaved some chicken broth, threw in two packages of plain Ramen, and settled in front of the television, promising she'd start her homework after Law & Order . Half an hour later, she was sound asleep on the sofa.
Hell week was frantic as usual, with last-minute changes in staging, harried costumers with sharp pins and sharper tempers, and Renard's usual dramatics. It didn't help that he waited until Thursday night, after the final dress rehearsal, to think about staging the curtain call, and as she waited offstage for the seventh variant on “the chorus enters in a big group,” Andi was trying not to think about how late it was getting.
“You look like you're about to fall over,” murmured a familiar, husky voice in her ear. Andi's heart nearly stopped as she turned and looked up into those green eyes.
“I just wish he'd make up his mind,” Andi whispered. “I'm dreading getting up in the morning.”
Devon grimaced. “So is about 80% of the rest of the chorus, I'd bet.”
Andi shrugged. “The show must go on,” she quoted.
“Sshhh!” hissed a nearby soprano. Andi murmured an apology, but when she turned back, Devon was gone.
Friday was a blur, and Andi suffered the usual stomach butterflies before opening night, complicated by the fact that she knew a keen pair of green eyes might be watching her from backstage. She contemplated skipping class but there was a quiz, so she made do with a plain bagel on her way to campus. No dinner before a performance—weight on the stomach might slow the diaphragm, and any dairy would cloud the throat—so she usually ate sparsely during the day and made up for it at night, if she didn't fall asleep first.
She wrangled some space at the makeup counter, transforming herself into a seductive if anonymous Gypsy girl, and wriggled into her costume. As she was tying her shawl, the familiar call came down the stairs: “Thirty minutes. Warmups! Cast to the rehearsal hall for warmups!”
She trooped up the worn steps with the rest of the chorus, softly vocalizing to prepare her vocal chords for the evening ahead. Some of the girls who'd be dancing, and the supernumeraries borrowed from the ballet, were already in the hall doing stretches on the hardwood floor, and the chorus and principals gathered in a buzz of little social knots, some gossiping, some vocalizing like Andi.
“Heads up!” the stage manager shouted, and the noise quickly dwindled. Renard made his usual entrance in his perfectly tailored tux, to a smattering of applause—mostly from the principals—and graciously bowed.
“Cast—principals, chorus, supers—and crew, I want to thank you for all your hard work,” he began. “But before we begin our terrific show, I want to introduce you to someone.”
This isn't his usual speech , thought Andi, echoed by a few surprised whispers from the other chorus members. What is he up to?
“You may have seen her around, backstage or in the audience, or perhaps you've spoken to her without knowing who she is, because she wanted to get to know you—and the company she's inherited—from the ground up. Ladies and gentlemen, and tenors—“ he paused for a quick laugh “—I'd like you to meet the new owner and general manager of Pacific Opera… Mrs. Devon Chandler .”
No. Oh, no. But there she was… tall, graceful and elegant, hair coiffed into a sleek bun, in a long black evening gown and dripping with emeralds that matched her glowing green eyes.
Goodbye, singing career, were the last words that passed through Andi's mind, just before she fainted dead away.
End of Part One
Copyright © 2009 Sapphirebard. Any use of this story or its characters in whole or in part is prohibited without express permission of the author.
I believe Carmen is public domain but in case it's not, Carmen the story was written by Prosper Merimee in 1845, and Carmen the opera based on the story was written by Georges Bizet in 1875. I had nothing to do with any of this.
Feedback is always welcome at sapphirebard (at) gmail (dot) com
To be continued in Part Two
Return to the Academy